Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Return of the Cavalry

Alfie has been back for three games and Kuba for two. Mendes is saying the Milan Michalek is ready to come back to the lineup Thursday night against the Blues and Spezza might be ready to go for the Bruins rematch on Saturday afternoon. On paper, this sounds like tremendous news, right? I sure think so.

What I'm waiting for is the inevitable groan of some casual fans that say that we're 'on a roll right now' and that these guys are going to mess up the chemistry. In their argument, they'll highlight other teams that lost a star player to injury, went on a winning streak in his absence, and then hit the skids when their star returned. In fact, didn't that happen a while back with the Leafs and Sundin in the postseason?

This situation is different. It is different because we aren't just getting back one top end player; we're getting back our three best forwards. One of them, our captain, has already shown how he can lift the team to another level. Michalek and Spezza both add a missing element - a constant offensive threat.

I'm not trying to knock the current group. Guys like Shannon, Regin, Fisher, Neil, and Ruutu have truly risen to the occasion with the added icetime. Sure, they stunk to high hell in the five game losing streak, but the past four games have been some of our best displays of hockey this season as far as team fundamentals go.

That being said, I think you can make the argument that these role players are really just playing out of their skates and exceeding expectations. Their pace isn't sustainable over the long term. Sure, a player like Peter Regin is blossoming into a really strong offensive player, as seen in his highlight reel goal against the Hawks. But where some fans think that the team has built this long-term, sustainable chemistry that shouldn't be tinkered with, I just can't buy that. The kids are alright, but the stars are critical. Let me ask you this - does anybody think that this group, sans Spezza and Michalek (and to a smaller extent, Snoopy), can make the playoffs? It is safe to say that Spezza and Michalek together are huge assets to the next 31 games.

As for the chemistry, Spezza is a giggly dude that has been around here for his entire career. He isn't here for leadership, so it isn't like someone has filled that void for him. He isn't really this stud two-way forward that will lose icetime there, either. He brings something that is unmatched and that is his second-to-none playmaking skill. Michalek - he brings a speed and a set of hands that we don't have in combination in any other player. Shannon is fast but doesn't have those hands. Regin has the hands, but can't match Michalek's speed. Get my point? There aren't chemistry issues when the returning players are filling a void in terms of the role they play.

As for goalies, that is a discussion for another day. When Snoopy gets healthy, does he just skate into the crease, or does he have to win the job back?


Anshu said...

I completely agree that the return of our top line players only helps the team.

The only consideration from my perspective is who comes out of the lineup to make room for those guys. Donovan's a no-brainer for Michalek.

But I hear a lot people suggesting Shannon should come out to make room for Spezza, which I totally disagree with. He's been playing great hockey, and is a huge part of the team's recent success. If salary and optics weren't a consideration, I'd probably sit Cheechoo for a bit. But as it is, I'm assuming Smith will be sent back down.

Rink Rant said...

Brother PREACH. These are some of our key guys. No problem with spreading out the work. If lines start clunking out there I’m pretty sure we can depend on Clouston to shuffle ‘em around. That said, I am fully prepared to see a little rust on the Watermelon Warrior and Spezza tonight. These are players we expect blinding speed and mind bending playmaking from so it could take a couple of games for them to look themselves. We can’t become delusional because of Alfie’s (praise be his name) comeback. You know what though? Either of those guys want to light it up right out of the gate? I will take it. GOOOOOOOOO SENS GOOOOOOOOO

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Master Of Puppets said...

I'd like to burn a theme too. Right under that guys arse.

It's a no brainer. Despite "chemistry" you look at the roster, and when the "big" guys are ready their "fill ins" get pulled.

Smith has played well in his call up - the first time this year a skater has actually delivered the goods. He did what he was asked and earned some valuable time in "The Show". Spezza comes back, Smith goes back.

These are the times you are thankful the depth held the fort - albeit that 5 game slide made it look like the fort was gonna collapse.

Chum and Winchester (when he returns) will likely be the odd men out when the team is back to full health. They are why Murray may have minor assets to trade soon and hopefully for a studlier D than Kuba.

Consistency is the only thing that will get this team in the playoffs and hopefully they've turned a corner ... 40 points in 31 games should guarantee it. With a healthy lineup it is do-able.

If they make it, 6th is looking good for a matchup with Buffalo.

History be damned, better than Pens, Caps or Devils.

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